Friday’s announcement that the Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded to President Barack Obama, an international debate has developed over whether or not Obama is deserving of the award, with some arguing it is too premature given that Obama is less than a year into his term.
The fourth U.S. president to receive the award, Obama was recognized “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” the Nobel Prize Committee said.
Critics contend that Obama has yet to achieve any tangible accomplishments in international diplomacy and peacemaking.
Peter Wallensteen, professor of Peace Studies for the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies countered this claim, explaining the Nobel Peace Prize Committee did not award Obama the prize based on his achievements.
“The Committee’s statement emphasizes his contribution to creating a new climate for international affairs, no specific achievement,” Wallensteen said. “The Committee has done this type of awarding before, for instance to German Chancellor Willy Brandt in 1971 for his ambition to change German relations to the East. It resulted in the fall of the Berlin Wall 18 years later.”
The Nobel Prize was created by Alfred Nobel, a scientist, inventor, entrepreneur, author and pacifist, who in his will left his estate to the establishment of the award, which recognizes outstanding achievements in the sciences, literature and peace.
Part of Nobel’s will stipulates the prize should be awarded “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses,” the Nobel Prize Committee explained.
For Obama, the Committee recognized his desire to create “a new climate in international politics,” and demonstrated its support for “the approach he is taking towards global problems,” according to the Committee’s announcement of the award.
Wallensteen — who has had the opportunity to nominate past candidates for the prize as a professor of peace research — explained the Committee’s foresight in awarding Obama.
“The Committee takes a long term perspective, but also argues that this change may be the most important for peace in the last year, which is also what the Committee has to consider,” Wallensteen said.
Scott Appleby, professor of history and Regan Director of the University’s Kroc Institute agreed that the Nobel Committee’s decision was deserved given his efforts toward peace and diplomacy thus far.
Calling the Committee’s decision “audacious and inspired,” Appleby explained the more complete notion of “peace-building” and the steps Obama has already taken to achieve his goals of peace in the world.
Speaking to Obama’s rhetoric of hope and future action, Appleby said in a reflection that “hope is not an airy platitude, but a necessary and reliable foundation upon which people of good will can collaborate to provide clean drinking water, access to quality education, the right to a living wage and protection from violence and all the other conditions that make sustainable peace possible.”
Nominations for the award were made by Feb. 1, less than two weeks into Obama’s term, a point that is causing controversy and complaint worldwide and widening the partisan divide.
“I was surprised [at the award], but find the Committee’s argument convincing,” Wallensteen said. “It is correct that a change of the overall climate of international affairs can be helpful to increasing the chances of peace in the world. Thus, the Committee rewards Obama’s style of opening up locked situations.”
The award surprised Obama as well.
“I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people of all nations,” Obama said in a press conference Friday.
Wallensteen said Obama’s award could be seen as a platform for action and a crucial opportunity for the president to take a strong role in bringing about international change and peace.
“It certainly raises expectations on other leaders to follow suit and on Obama himself and his handling of the two wars the United States is fighting right now,” Wallensteen said.